Chapter 4: Language learning in Brandenburg

There is such a beautiful energy and enthusiasm that comes with language learning in Brandenburg! Over time, however, the lovely beginning phase starts to fade, and the difficulty of consistent understanding and speaking sets in.

Check out the last The Outlander in Brandenburg blog to read the story in succession.

The first week of initial greetings and first impressions rolled by with some relatively polite introductions. All the new product encounters like Quark, Gelierzucker, Landjäger, Sülze, and the huge variety of bread and cakes simply blew my mind. It really never occurred to me that German cuisine had more to offer than schnitzel, bratwurst, and sauerkraut. Herr Dieter and Herr Felix made sure that I tasted everything since I needed to better understand the flavors we were creating for our German guests. Some flavors were familiar, while others took some getting used to.

Each day more and more German vocabulary words presented themselves on signs, packaging, various written materials, and in day-to-day interaction. Although the environment was a bit different from what I was used to, it was also filled with humans going about each day living life like all humans do in one way or another. Every passing conversation, announcement, or sign passed on information in the German language that I did not yet understand. It was truly amazing how the brand-new common interpretation around me awoke an instinctual focused thrill on small moments of understanding. Any words that I could recognize on a page or through word of mouth were gathered in my mind as proud moments.
This beautiful feeling in the beginning stages of learning a new interpretation of the world in full immersion simply overtook me.

Slowly, but surely, new words and sayings were added to memory strengthening my internal excitement. Since I was constantly in the kitchen working and living the life of a chef, I had time to really listen to my colleagues around me. A daily initial greeting of some kind to each person that I came in contact with was perhaps the most important part of each day. The older generations paid particular attention to this and spoke with a more rough and direct sound than the younger generations.
All spoke with an overarching rough tone, yet each distinct personality found a way to present itself. Just hearing the differences in speech was absolutely mesmerizing. Herr Dieter or Herr Felix would typically initiate any kind of conversation that would shoot across the room or jump back-and-forth. It would either move things forward in a structured manner or initiate pocket moments of silliness.

Each day came to a climactic point when I gathered enough courage to entertain the thrill of speaking out words or sentences. Now and then a question would come my way and a strange mixture of German and English would pour out of my mouth. My colleagues could not help but laugh at my attempts to speak. “Nein Danke, mein Baum ist Full (‘no thank you my tree is full’ – when I meant to say – ‘no thank you, my stomach is full’)” or “Ich komme gleich, ich muss mein Messer in mein Schlüpfer stecken (‘I will come in a moment, I must put my knife in my panties’ – when I meant to say – ‘ I will come in a moment, I must put my knives in my drawer”

The initial phase of excitement began to fade as daily challenges and the frustrations of language learning smacked my mind and soul harder than I ever anticipated. It was truly amazing how easy it was for me to feel completely alone in a room full of people. For the first time in my life, I could not really speak or say what I wanted to say when I wanted to say it. Even the attempt to understand what was going on in the conversations around me demanded all of my focus and energy. Days, weeks, and months were filled with more observation than communication and almost no talking. Lots of smiling and nodding kept my face occupied to the point of headaches and cheek aches.

The minimal facial expressions, directness, and poker-like attitudes around me made it very hard for me to interpret exactly what was going on. Due to my incomplete understanding of the words and actions around me, I could not help but fall into assumptions that lead me in negative directions. Since I had a different interpretation of the world where my common knowledge was different from what was now surrounding me, the issue of distrust became a large one. None of my colleagues trusted or wanted to trust me nor did they understand why I was even in Brandenburg. Patience rarely presented itself, and no one took me seriously or wanted to give me a chance. The team of people around me were simply annoyed by my non-German speaking presence.
Each of my colleagues seemed to be counting down the days until l would leave. All with a similar thought process that I would not last too long and that I would be gone soon anyway so why bother.

Any mistake I made seemed to be immediately considered a full-intentioned crime. Something as small as a misunderstanding was usually blown out of proportion becoming the ‘talk of the town’ very quickly. Each mistake built upon the case of reasons for me to go back to where I came from. Questions about America and its issues would come up every now and then. It seemed that all of my colleagues from Herr Dieter to the apprentices seemed to have similar thoughts saturated with the idea that all Americans only eat McDonald’s and fast food, are too overly happy, and walk around with overbearing senses of entitlement. This ‘American persona’ was simply pushed upon me from day one. I just had to take it on as my duty to break out of this stereotype.

language learning in Brandenburg
Hiking Trail in Brandenburg- Ruppiner Seenland

Although senses of humor vary, I figured that humor itself simply has no language learning bounds. If there was any way to be able to connect with the Brandenburg culture of subdued emotion, structure, and directness, it would only be through humor. I made myself believe that a smile and a redirection of my viewpoint would simply change everything. So, I became the humor.
When I wasn’t understanding something, my frustration would be humorously released in the third person through the exclamation of “Come on Evelyn!”, when something went wrong that I may or may not have played a part in I would exclaim “Come on Evelyn!” when I moved too slow or misunderstood a direction I would exclaim “Come on Evelyn!”.

This humor transferred over so well that it became the saying of the kitchen team. It would even break up any tensions helping the team find a foothold forward when things would go wrong or not as planned. Even when someone else clearly made a mistake, someone would exclaim “Come on Evelyn!” and soon thereafter, laughter would ring out loud and clear. If I could not laugh at myself, then I was just taking everything way too seriously or potentially out of context. I decided for myself that I would attach hope and will to carry on, to a humorous point of view of my situation.

All of the constant stress and strain helped me to realize the importance of short one-day or weekend trips. Even just going for a drive or wandering in a different area for a while would make a huge difference in my ability to handle it all. So many trails and lakes around where I was staying all seemed to beckon for my presence. The long days of summer made it hard to stay inside.

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Language learning can be tough. Rosetta Stone helped me to clarify my language learning issues.

2 Responses

  1. “Come on Evelyn”….I loved it! Could relate to all the feelings from great to not so great. Humor does wonders and you did a great job turning a difficult situation into a great experience for all. I’m still laughing to myself!

    1. Thank you 🙂 Anyone who has gone through or is going through this kind of language immersion experience has most likely also found that humor helps the most. More to come in next month’s blog!

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